Monday, October 19, 2015

Review - Diageo Special Releases 2015



The Diageo Special Releases are one of the biggest and most talked about annual whisky releases. Each Autumn, the largest producer of single malt in Scotland announces the line up.  The Special Releases programme has been running since the early 2000s and is designed to showcase some to the finest and rarest stocks in Diageo's portfolio, both from their current 28 single malt distilleries and those no longer in operation.  All the bottlings are at the natural cask strength, non chill filtered and limited edition.  The 2015 collection features nine whiskies.

Karen and Matt C were privileged to be invited to a small private tasting of the nine whiskies in London last month. The tasting was hosted by Dr. Nick Morgan, Diageo's Head of Whisky Outreach, and Maureen Robinson, one of Diageo's Senior Master Blenders. Both are part of the Special Releases selection panel. A huge thank you to both for the invite.


Our tasting notes

Brora 37 years old
Region - North East Highlands 
Distilled - 1977
Distillery status - Closed in 1983
ABV - 50.4%
Casks - Refill American oak
Bottles - 3000 
Price - £1300

The nose has a sweet vs. savoury battle of aromas - leather, cinnamon and ginger compliment those of golden syrup, stewed apples and plums.  There is a whiff of white pepper and distant ashy smoke also (like a smouldering fireplace).  On the palate this feels surprisingly juicy and vibrant for an old whisky.  Initial notes are of crisp green apples and spices (cinnamon and white pepper).  These are supported by a variety of characteristics - stewed pears, red berries, milk chocolate, beeswax and dried grass/hay, plus hints of cardamom, yeast and ginger.  The background smoke ties everything together and has more of dusty and earthy feel to it than on the nose.  The finish is sumptuous and long as the whisky sticks to the taste buds.  The sweet and fruity notes (baked cinnamon apples in particular) fade to leave the more savoury ones lingering.


The Cally 40 years old
Region - Edinburgh
Distillery status - Closed in 1988
Distilled - 1974
ABV - 53.3%
Casks - Refill American oak
Bottles - 5097
Price - £750

The nose is packed with expressive aromas vanilla, honey and fresh coconut.  These are supported by further aromas of tropical fruits, raisins, hazelnut and increasing wood spices (especially fresh sawdust and cinnamon).  On the palate the wood spices strike first and give a feisty edge.  There are plenty of ginger and cinnamon notes, plus a hint of clove.  When these soften the palate becomes sweet and buttery in feel with notes of golden syrup, white chocolate, dried pineapple, cream soda and candied orange present.  With water the spices spices take a back seat and the whisky feels very creamy and fruity, with the orange come through stronger.  The finish is lovely, long and warming.  The wood spices linger longest, along with the coconut and vanilla.


Caol Ila 17 years old Unpeated
Region - Islay
Distillery status - In operation
Distilled - 1997
ABV - 55.9%
Casks - First fill American oak
Bottles - Not specified
Price - £90

The oldest unpeated expression released to date.  The nose has lots of honey and orchard fruit (pears and apples) aromas to begin with and these are joined by toffee and a hint of candied lemon and baking powder.  Despite its name, there is some soft background bonfire smoke.  On the palate this feels fresh and vibrant with plenty of the orchard fruit notes up front.  These are joined by crumbly brown sugar, which takes the fruit in a more stewed direction.  There is a lovely malty note plus some agave syrup, candied lemon and a hint of dried grass.  The smoke is more prominent than on the nose and has an ashy quality to it.  Water brings this out even further and softens everything, particularly the fresh vibrant fruitiness.  The finish is long and expressive.  Very good.


Clynelish Select Reserve
Region - North East Highlands
Distillery status - In operation
Distilled - mixed ages
ABV - 56.1%
Casks - First fill American oak, first fill ex-sherry, first fill rejuvenated, refill American oak & refill European oak
Bottles - 3000
Price - £550

The nose has a lovely combination of aromas which marry together very well - think of toffee, vanilla, candied orange, peach and hints of damp earth and dusty cereals.  There is also a distinct aroma of waxy red apples.  On the palate the whisky has an interesting waxy, viscous and velvety feel.  There is again plenty of toffee and vanilla and these notes lead the way.  they are back up by further elements of golden syrup, dried peach, bittersweet malted barley and orange oil, which increases with time.  The palate notes are complimented by some warming cinnamon, ginger and bitter cocoa.  With water, the orange notes comes through strongly, as does a lovely biscuity flavour, and these carry on in to the long finish.  The orange becomes more tangerine-like and mingles with notes of caramel, chocolate and ginger.


Dailuaine 34 years old
Region - Speyside
Distillery status - In operation
Distilled - 1980
ABV - 50.9%
Casks - Refill American oak
Bottles - 3000
Price - £380

On the nose this whisky has an initial prickly and feisty with a heavy and robust edge.  It feels very savoury with plenty of malted grains, bitter plums, candied orange and hints of soft peat smoke and beef stock.  On the palate it grips the inside of the mouth and feels visocus and a little oily.  It is intense.  There are initial notes of malted barley, bitter chocolate, dessicated coconut and plenty of dried fruit (raisins, prunes and candied orange).  Underneath is a slightly metallic note, plus one of tart apples and soft background peat smoke.  With water a delicious oaky wood spice develops and the dried fruits really come to the fore.  The savoury meaty note also seems stronger.  The finish is long and very dry with the malty cereals and bitter chocolate and orange notes contributing to this.


Dalwhinnie 25 years old
Region - Central Highlands
Distillery status - In operation
Distilled - 1989
ABV - 48.8%
Casks - Refill American oak
Bottles - 6000
Price - £325

On the nose this whisky seems very delicate and light but with some lovely initial fresh fruit aromas (green apple, pear and plums, plus a hint of passion fruit).  There is also a distinct sweetness reminisent of icing sugar and something savoury and spicy (aniseed, menthol and cinnamon).  On the palate these savoury notes are more prominent, especially the cinnamon.  Apple and plum notes are again present and when combined with the increased cinnamon give a more stewed feel than on the nose.  There is also a distinct fresh tropical note (pineapple) plus hints of blackcurrant, candied lime, burnt caramel and malted cereals.  With water the cereals come out even more.  The finish is on the shorter side and fruity with the savoury and spicy notes fading first.


Lagavulin 12 years old
Region - Islay
Distillery status - In operation
Distilled - 2002
ABV - 56.8%
Casks - Refill American oak 
Bottles - Not specified
Price - £80

The nose packs a real punch.  It has a feisty feel and is packed with peppery, peat and iodine aromas.  These are reminiscent of fresh chilli, burning embers and creosote, and have a medicinal quality. A sugary aroma (most reminiscent of icing sugar) is also present.  On the palate, the feistiness continues.  The hot chilli and burning peat embers hit first and give a wonderful heat and vibrancy.  Then comes some sweetness with notes of icing sugar, honey and vanilla, plus hints of white chocolate and oatcakes.  The whisky feels like it needs some water and this makes it softer, knocking the bitter peat smoke back and bringing notes of peardrop sweets, green peppers and oatcakes through.  The finish is long and warming.  It feels dry, ashy and peppery especially once the sugary and fruity notes begin to disappear.


Pittyvaich 25 years old
Region - Speyside
Distillery status - Closed in 1993
Distilled - 1989
ABV - 49.9%
Casks - Refill American oak
Bottles - 6000
Price - £250

The nose has a robust and savoury feel.  Aromas of nuts (walnuts and brazils) mix with those of damp earth, heavy malty cereals and a hint of black treacle and bitter orange oil.  The palate follows a similar path.  It feels viscous, heavy and robust.  The malted cereals are dominant and give a bittersweet feel.  The savoury nature of the whisky is accentuated by further notes of burnt caramel, dark chocolate, warming wood spices (cinnamon especially), toasted nuts and hints of black treacle and orange oil again.  This is reminiscent of dark fruit cake mix.  An underlying earthiness is brought out with water.  The whisky becomes softer but remains malty and bran-like.  The finish is long and warming with plenty of bittersweet cereal, wood spice and chocolate plus a hint of burnt toffee.


Port Ellen 32 years old
Region - Islay
Distillery status - closed in 1983
Distilled - 1983
ABV - 53.9%
Casks - Refill European oak
Bottles - 3000
Price - £2400

The nose has a very savoury edge to it.  Aromas of musty earthy smoke, malted cereal, leather and dry autumn leaves make this extremely interesting to smell.  Hints of fruit (raisins, pineapple and tinned peaches) and golden syrup, plus a good pinch of cinnamon are also present.  On the palate this feels soft and a little waxy, but with plenty of savoury notes again.  There is plenty of malted barley present along with cedar wood, the soft musty and earthy smoke from the nose and old furniture polish.  These are balanced by sweeter elements - golden syrup, vanilla, raisins, pineapple, apricot, dried mango and white chocolate.  Hints of burnt orange peel and white pepper add further depth.  Water brings out more vanilla and apricot in particular.  The finish is delicious, long and warming with the earthy smoke lasting longest.

"This year is a special one, we have a real variety of whiskies from distilleries which have been un-earthed by our talented Master Blenders, such as The Cally. Once again, the Special Releases range has surpassed expectations and we’re thrilled to share the collection with whisky experts everywhere."
Dr. Nick Morgan - Head of Whisky Outreach, Diageo.

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